Neues Deutschland
08. August 2009

English translation by

One Year Ago

War in the Caucasus with Many Losers

by Otfried Nassauer (Translated by Agatha Haun, Tlaxcala)

A year ago, all eyes were turned toward Beijing. On 8 August 2008, the Summer Olympic Games were opened with a gigantic fireworks display. All eyes? No, because a few hours before that, Mikhail Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, forced Beijing visitors such as Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush to turn their gaze toward his country. His fireworks were of a different kind. In the night of 7-8 August, Georgian troops marched into the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, in order to - in the words of Georgia's General Kurashvili - "restore the constitutional order in the entire region". Russia intervened with military force; within five days, Georgia had lost the war. In political terms, there were many losers.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their independence. Georgia lost its territorial integrity for the foreseeable future. To this day, it is still struggling with the refugee problem and with damages running into the billions. Its armed forces are still scarcely deployable. Saakashvili's government lost its credibility at home and abroad. In spite of ist autocratic, repressive politics and corruption, it can remain in power only because it receives Western financial aid and political support from states that are critical of Russia. It has lost its chance to become a member of NATO any time soon.

South Ossetia is a miniature republic under Russian military protection, with no international recognition. Political and economic independence are unattainable. The region is politically, geographically, and economically isolated. Here too, an autocratic, corrupt power structure is developing.

Russia indeed won the war, but ultimately it will suffer political losses. Above all, the new NATO members and the USA accuse Moscow of a disproportionate military reaction and a return to imperialist politics.

They use institutions such as NATO to practice a policy of pin pricks. In addition, Russia has been pushed into a problematic decision: it recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states and thus committed itself to a longer-term military and political involvement south of the Caucasus, which was no longer in its interest. Although Russia argues, as NATO states did when Kosovo was being pried loose from Serbia, even if several commit a violation of the law, it still remains a violation. It weakens the authority of the UN and its Charter and provides ammunition for critics of Moscow.

NATO and the EU are also losers. In both institutions, open disputes have broken out about whether in the future they are to establish security against, or with, Russia. Thus Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the new NATO Secretary-General, must harmonize his intention to improve NATO-Russian cooperation with the demand to keep the door open for Georgia to quickly join NATO.

On the occasion of the first anniversary of the war, the adversaries are once again speaking shrilly. It is improbable that there will be a stable peace for the foreseeable future. Rather it is to be feared that local and global actors will continue to want to exploit the conflict in order to test, with pin pricks, how much room they have to manoeuvre.


is a freelance journalist and director of the Berlin Information Centre for Transatlantic Security / Berliner Informationszentrum for Transatlantische Sicherheit - BITS